Biological computer that ‘lives’ inside the body comes one step closer as scientists make transistor out of DNA and RNA.

Molecular computer graphic of DNA double helixMolecular computer graphic of DNA double helixMolecular computer graphic of DNA double helixmolecular_computer3Finding could lead to new biodegradable devices based on living cells that are capable of detecting changes in the environment

Scientists believe they are close to building the first truly biological computer made from the organic molecules of life and capable of working within the living cells of organisms ranging from microbes to man.

The researchers said that they have made a transistor – the critical switch at the heart of all computers – from DNA and RNA, the two biological molecules that store the information necessary for living things to replicate and grow.

Silicon transistors control the direction of flow of electrical impulses within computer chips, but the biological transistor controls the movement of an enzyme called RNA polymerase along a strand of the DNA molecule, the scientists said.

Ultimately, the aim is to use the biological transistors – called transcriptors – to make simple but extremely small biological computers that could be programmed to monitor and perhaps affect the functioning of the living cells in which they operate, researchers said.

It could lead to new biodegradable devices based on living cells that are capable of detecting changes in the environment, or intelligent microscopic vehicles for delivering drugs within the body, or a biological monitor for counting number of times a human cell divides so that the device could destroy the cell if it became cancerous, the scientists said.

“Biological computers can be used to study and reprogram living systems, monitor environments and improve cellular therapeutics,” said Drew Endy, assistant professor of bioengineering at Stanford University in California, who led the study published in the journal Science.

Last year, Professor Endy announced new ways of using biological molecules to store information and to transmit data from one cell to another. The latest study adds the third critical component of computing – a biological transistor that acts as a “logic gate” to determine whether a biochemical question is true or false.

Logic gates are critical for a computer to function properly. In a biological setting the use of logical data processing is almost as limitless as its use in conventional electronic computing, said Jerome Bonnet, a bioengineer within the Endy laboratory, and the lead author of the study.

“You could test whether a given cell had been exposed to any number of external stimuli – the presence of glucose and caffeine for instance. [Logic] gates would allow you to make the determination and store that information so you could easily identify those which had been exposed and which had not,” Dr Bonnet said.

Biological computers have been the dream of electronic engineers for decades because they open the possibility of a new generation of ultra-small, ultra-fast devices that could be incorporated into the machinery of living organisms.

“For example, suppose we could partner with microbes and plants to record events, natural or otherwise, and convert this information into easily observed signals. That would greatly expand our ability to monitor the environment,” Professor Endy said.

“So the future of computing need not only be a question of putting people and things together with ubiquitous silicon computers. The future will be much richer if we can imagine new modes of computing in new places and with new materials – and then find ways to bring those new modes to life,” he said.


A third more Scottish wind turbines built in one year .


The true pace at which wind farms are spreading across Scotland’s countryside has been disclosed after official figures indicated the number of turbines increased by a third in the last year alone.

The Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) published statistics showing all Scotland’s onshore wind farms had a maximum capacity of 3,808 megawatts (MW) at the end of 2012.

This total was 34 per cent higher than the 2,837MW total in the last quarter of 2011. Scotland’s total capacity is now nearly double that of England, Wales and Northern Ireland combined.

Scottish ministers yesterday welcomed the figures, saying they showed the amount of electricity generated by wind had increased 19 per cent last year to record levels.

However, anti-wind farm campaigners pointed out this increase demonstrated the inefficiency of the technology because it had required a much larger rise in the number of turbines.

They raised questions over how many more wind farms will have to be constructed to meet Alex Salmond’s target of generating the equivalent of nearly all Sco

The figures were produced after the Scottish Conservatives disclosed that more than 44,000 people have objected to wind farm applications in the last five years.

Struan Stevenson, a Scottish Tory MEP, said the DECC figures were “perfectly symbolic of how pathetically useless and inefficient the whole technology of wind is.”

Rebutting SNP ministers’ praise, he said: “This is not terrific news for the 44,000 people who have written letters of complaint to planning authorities and the Scottish Government.”

The Daily Telegraph has disclosed how SNP ministers are putting pressure on local councils to allow more wind farms even in areas where local people think they have reached “saturation point”.

DECC said installed generating capacity for all forms of renewable energy increased by 3,170MW across the UK last year.

Nearly half this total (1,224MW) was accounted for by five Scottish onshore wind farms opening or increasing their number of turbines.

The five included an expansion of Whitelee wind farm, Europe’s largest, near Glasgow, the Griffin wind farm in Perthshire and three in the Clyde area.

Scotland’s onshore wind generating capacity of 3,808MW is 84 per cent higher than the total of that of England (1,155MW), Wales (459MW) and Northern Ireland (453MW).

The figures disclosed the amount of electricity generated by all onshore and offshore wind farms increased to 8,296 gigawatt hours, more than four times the 2006 total.

However, the “load capacity” for Scotland’s onshore turbines – the proportion of a wind farm’s capacity that actually produced electricity – averaged only 26 per cent last year.

DECC suggested that the increase in electricity generated had not matched the rise in the number of turbines because “wind speeds were slightly (0.8 knots) lower than 2011.

Fergus Ewing, the Scottish Energy Minister, said 2012 was “another record year for renewables” and Scotland contributed more than a third of the UK’s green energy output.



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